Danu’s Shiny Blanket

Phew!  I got two of my ADF Clergy Training Program courses written up and submitted this evening – and after all of that writing, I hafta do a blog thing as well?  I was going to write about our upcoming Winter Solstice ritual, but with as much snow as has come down today (and it isn’t melting away this time), winter must be here already, so a ritual would be redundant, right?  I’ll hold off on the Yule aticle until next week (but folks who want to help us get the ritual put together are welcome to join us at Liturgists’ Roundtable on Tuesday night), and I hope you’ll all settle for a poem I wrote about winter for our newsletter a few years ago.

Danu’s Shiny Blanket

Remember back when you were young, and hated going to bed?
You’d yell and kick and scream until your face would turn bright red.
For Morpheus was monstrous, trying to steal your time to play,
And not a soothing healer as those dumb adults would say.

But then your mind grew more mature (at least that’s what I think)
And now you know it’s pleasant when to Slumberland you sink.
A time to rest, to dream of happy thoughts and wild retreats,
At least until your bedroom partner rolls and steals the sheets.

And yet you still complain when chill November winds do blow,
A portent of the coming of the cold December snow.
Consider, when the powder piles up seven inches deep,
That this is Mother Danu’s way to put the land to sleep.

For now it’s just past Samhain, and the dark year half begun,
And now’s the time to see much more of stars and less of sun.
Just like the child who sees the dusk and knows that bed is near,
So too must nature slumber in the nighttime of the year.

For bears, it’s very easy, they just curl up in their caves,
And hibernate until the spring brings warmth in growing waves.
And plants will either die or drowse, depending on their style.
But March and melting snow will bring them back and make us smile.

But no, we human beings have a harder road to tread.
We can’t just spend the winter months curled up upon a bed.
And so we rant and grumble when we have someplace to go,
Because our trip’s slowed down a tad by Danu’s blessed snow.

Just keep in mind while winter’s here and you are stuck downtown,
That this is Danu’s way to get her children to slow down,
And spend more time indoors and share your time with friends and kin,
Enjoying winter’s quietude before the summer’s din.

And soon enough the wheel will turn and springtime will be here!
And spring will turn to summer and the bright half of the year.
And winter’s rest will make you ready for your Beltaine fun,
To frolic in the forest in the light of Bel the Sun!

Yours in service to the Kindreds and the Grove,
Rev. Rob Henderson, Senior Druid


But does Vera Wang make wedding dresses in flannel?

I’ve been a bit frustrated by the lack of responses that most of my articles here have generated. Granted, I feel like I still know next to nothing about blogging, and maybe this is just the nature of the beast, but it seems like other blogs get a lot more comments, sometimes even approaching a “discussion”. So far it feels like I’ve been spending one or two hours every weekend casting these thoughts into the aether when I could have been doing something more helpful both to me and to everyone else. Not surprisingly, the articles that have gotten the most comments have been the ones with more controversial topics. (So how did those Kathy Lee petitions go, guys? Did you narrowly avert whatever disaster her comment was going to rain down upon your heads?) I suppose if I really wanted lots of activity here, I’d just do nothing but controversial topics. Which brings me to gay marriage!

No, seriously, I’ve been contemplating doing an article on that topic here for a while now. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me well that I’m entirely in favor of legalizing same sex marriage everywhere immediately. I’m too much the libertarian to want such a legal restriction on the actions of consenting adults. If anything, I consider this the most conservative moral opinion I have, because I want all the GLBT folks out there to be subject to the exact same societal expectations that the rest of us are. Really, if you oppose same sex marriage, doesn’t this mean you support same sex premarital sex? (And does that sentence even make sense?) Sure, I here these people talking about “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”, but you know I’m never going to let certain church’s religious documents decide what laws should be passed. Unless I get to add some new laws based on my interpretations of ancient Greek texts. Ooh, that might actually be fun… “The ‘Zeus and Hera’ bill states that any man may have an extramarital affair, but his wife may turn the other woman into an animal afterwards.”

So yeah, I could add more vitriol to the flames on this topic, but I feel like anything nasty that I could say has already been said by someone else in the past few weeks, after the vote on California’s Prop 8. And I hate being nasty almost as much as I hate being repetitive. Rather than doing another rant about civil rights, I just want to pose a few questions. I would really really REALLY love to hear someone on the other side of the argument give me honest answers to these. (Sometimes I think that this is the real difference between ‘”liberals” and “conservatives” – liberals care what other people think, but conservatives don’t give a good god damn.) I know the odds of any of those folks ever seeing this post or telling me the answers to my questions are slim at best, but at least this will give folks an idea of what I’m thinking:

1a) Let’s assume a hypothetical situation where same sex marriage is legalized everywhere in the US. What do you think the negative results of this will be? (Please be specific. “The sanctity of marriage will be ruined” is not specific. “God will rain lightning down on all of us” does count as specific, if unlikely to convince me. “I will cry” is very specific and I’m likely to believe it, even though I’d just tell you to get over it.)

1b) Follow-up: Same sex marriage has been legal in Canada for three years now. I watch Canadian TV regularly, and I can assure you that I haven’t noticed any horrendous changes, at least not in their TV shows. A few other countries have legalized it, including (and I swear I’m not making this up) South Africa. Do you feel that these countries have experienced the results that you brought up in your answer to question 1a?

2) These days, many opposite sex couples are living together and having children without getting married. Is this more of a problem than allowing same sex marriage, or not? Why, or why not?

3) Roman Catholics oppose divorce, and do not allow their members to get divorced. If you oppose same sex marriage because some religions oppose it, would you consider it reasonable to make divorce illegal in the US? Why or why not?

That’s enough for now. If you want to answer these questions but don’t want to do so in a public forum (or if someone just forwarded you a copy of this and you have no idea where the original article is located), my e-mail address is robh@shininglakes.org

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

A New Turn Of Leadership

As the Wheel of the Year turns past Samhain and into a new year, I thought I’d mention our Grove’s Leadership Council, who took office at Samhain after the September/October election which was far more boring than the other elections that were happening in the U.S. at the time. >8)

Senior Druid: Rev. Rob Henderson
Assistant Senior Druid: Rodney Cox
Administrator: Jude Howison
Scribe: Jude Howison
Pursewarden/Registrar: Rodney Cox
Chronicler: Genevieve Stoyak
Public Relations Coordinator: Charles Howison
Youth Activities Coordinator: Sean Keller

(The Asst. SD position is appointed by the Senior Druid, for those wondering why you never saw it on your ballots.)

These are the folks who work “behind the scenes” – or maybe more accurately, “in front of the scenes that nobody else shows up for” – to make sure that the Grove continues to function, from making sure the rituals get run to make sure we have some money in the bank to making sure our quarterly reports get filed with ADF so the IRS doesn’t get annoyed with us. This week, we’ll be setting our tentative calendar for the next year. Not spiritual, maybe, but definitely necessary to allow the rest of the spiritual stuff to flow.

Most of us have been in these positions for a while now. Sean is the exception, this is his first time on the Leadership Council and we’re all looking forward to seeing what he’ll do with the YAC position. The Youth Activities Coordinator has always had a chicken-and-egg problem: people are less likely to bring their children to a ritual that doesn’t have some kind of children’s activities; but then any attempt to do children’s activities will have no participation because nobody’s bringing their kids. I’m sure that Sean will stick it out and keep the activities coming in the hopes that “if you build it, they will come”, and I know that everyone in our Grove will offer him whatever support he needs.

I won’t plead with people to attend our business meetings, ’cause I know it barely works when I ask people to attend our fun meetings, and business meetings are certainly the least fun meetings that we have. Well, with me and Jude in attendance, there’s bound to be some amount of joking, but there’s only so much we can do with source material like calendars and financial reports. But keep us in your thoughts (and in your prayers? nah it’s not that bad) and maybe write an article or something for the newsletter.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Related Reading:
SLG’s Bylaws, for those who dare to read more about what our officers do: http://shininglakes.bravehost.com/bylaws.html

P.S. – Longtime ADF member and ArchDruid Emeritus Ian Corrigan is giving blogging a try! Check it out at: http://intothemound.blogspot.com/

One Wedding and a Sort-Of Funeral?

Yesterday was the sort of day that made me wonder whether doing our Samhain rituals outdoors is really a good idea at all. I don’t think the temperature ever got above 45, even when the sun was out. The good news is that, except for some misting in between the rites, it didn’t rain at all until about ten minutes after we finished cleaning up the site. The better news is that it’s even colder today, and raining as of 5:30, and the forecast says possible snow in a few hours (which would have been right in the middle of our evening rite), so not postponing the rite to Sunday was definitely the right call.

Really, though, I should start this article off on Friday night, when fourteen of us visited the pre-ritual fire at various points throughout the evening. I got to the site right around sunset at 5:20 PM, and lit the fire that would become our Grove Flame for the coming six months. I then waited until 6:45 when I had to leave to go get Gen from work, and that’s when Jacqui got there and we actually blessed the fire. (Not that the lack of people was hugely surprising, most of my Grovemates’ employers aren’t in the habit of changing their work schedules to compensate for early sunsets!) By the time Gen and I got back at around 8, there were about twelve folks there. We members of the newly elected Leadership Council took our oath, and then Gen and I stayed for a while before heading home to get ready for the big day.

The Kellers were nice enough to stay the night tending the fire, and also helped us avert what could have been the biggest disaster of the day. I thought we’d given Don Botsford, the owner of the nature preserve where we hold our outdoor rituals, a copy of our schedule back in September. Apparently we hadn’t, and he didn’t know we were coming out this weekend. This wasn’t a big problem for him, but some of the campers who’ve been staying in the preserve this year have been setting up their tents in our nemeton. Don has been warning them in advance when we were coming, and they moved the tents out of the circle for that weekend. This time, thought, the tents were still there on Friday night. Uh oh. I spent part of my Friday night working out what other spots in the preserve could hold a temporary circle big enough for us. Fortunately, they did find out the next morning that we were there, and Sean Keller helped them break down their campsite and move it, which may well be more physical work than I did for the entire weekend. (And I did a lot of physical work this weekend. >8)

Anyway, crisis averted, we got the nemeton and fire circle set up and ready right at 2 PM. We never start right on time, of course, since we always get stragglers, but this time I didn’t want to wait a huge amount of time, partly because it was cold and partly because we had another ritual to prepare for later. Epona, ADF’s Upper Midwest Regional Druid, managed to bring her family to one of our rituals for the first time since they moved to Michigan in 2002, which was quite an honor! Her children and the Keller’s children were the only ones at the “family friendly” rite, though. I guess I can’t blame any parents out there for not wanting their children to be out in those temperatures, I know Gen’s niece and nephew wanted to be there but their parents wouldn’t let them, and I hope they enjoyed seeing Madagascar 2 instead. We did our usually afternoon rite, with a fairly simple script (this is the only ritual of the year for which we use a script) and not a lot of emphasis on “building energy” or the like. As offerings, we decorated the nemeton with roses and shiny garlands and such, appropriate for both the wedding of Lugh and Ana, and the Ancestors rite we’d be doing that night. We also sang a song to Lugh and Ana. The omen was good: Uruz – Raido – Isa, and I know what most of you must be thinking with Isa showing up, but Rod interpreted it as a bridge, which we would travel across with strength. That ritual done, we headed back to the fire circle to eat, do our raffle, and prepare for the evening rite.

Eleven of the twelve folks who were staying for both rituals went out to buy food and other supplies, leaving me and Candy to get started folding paper bags for our traditional luminaria. Anne showed up at this point and looked very worried, thinking that only two people had been to the first rite! >8) Folks got back from shopping, I helped Gen set up electric lights around the outside of the nemeton to help with our visibility issues in the darkness (setting up the lights was semi-easy, setting up several hundred feet of extension cord from the trampoline building to get there was not), and things progressed. Indeed, by our official 6 PM starting time we had a large crowd, the luminaria were being set up, and everything was ready! Er, except one thing. Jacqui, the ritual leader, wasn’t there yet. She’d had some delays at home and didn’t get there until about 20 after. But still, we seldom start the rite before 6:30 anyway, so no need to panic. Then she went to get a copy of the Order of Service, and I had to remind her that we don’t do orders of service for the night ritual because nobody can read them in the dark anyway. Maybe this was when I should have started to panic?

Flash back to our first Liturgists’ Roundtable, when Jacqui, Rod, Gen and I talked about ideas for the ritual. Jacqui said she wanted to lead it, and I said sure, since I knew she’d led ADF rites before, even if she hadn’t done so recently. We talked about passing the Ancestor doll around, as we’d done for the last few Samhain evening rites, and having people ask their Ancestors to use the doll as a focus if they needed help getting to the ritual space. We talked about making the ritual “more magic(k)al”, and to that end having people dress up as fairies and animals, and treating the processional to the nemeton as a journey through the Otherworld within a Faerie context. I admitted to being a little worried about this – this is a ritual where we get a lot of first timers, and as I put it, “I don’t get a lot of complaints from the new folks that our rituals just aren’t silly enough” – but I liked the idea enough to go with it. We also decided to move the next Roundtable forward one week so it wouldn’t conflict with what might be the most historic Election Day of our lives. When doing the schedule last year, I knew that the Roundtable on the 4th would be on Election Day, but for my entire adult life I’ve voted before work, so it honestly never occurred to me that this would be a scheduling conflict for some. Okay, no big deal, we moved the Roundtable to the 27th.

Then the 27th came. Rod, Gen, and I were there, but no Jacqui. It turned out she was too ill to come, so I went home and (several days late, I admit) sent out our notes so she could go over them and get her liturgical worksheet together. (Yeah, there was big mistake number one, I thought Jacqui was going to put together her own worksheet and we could go over it before the ritual. Memo to myself: Never assume that again.)

So it’s time for the ritual, I ask Jacqui if she has the roles covered, she says yes, and so down we process from the Fire Circle to the Nemeton. Jacqui doesn’t know the words to the songs we’ve agreed to use, and my voice is still fluctuating between “on” and “off” because of this cold I can’t shake, but we manage well enough. We get to the circle, and Jacqui has us all join hands, close our eyes, and do some visualization. Oh no. I’ve never been a fan of guided meditation in group ritual, especially when the temperature is below 40 F, but it’s a short unity thing, so I feel some relief. Then she starts opening the portals, having us do random call and response with short phrases like “open the well” and “silver the tree”. This actually goes well, but I’m scratching my head and wondering. Ana? Allies? Bardic Invocation? How much of the ritual order are we skipping here? Then we did the Bardic call, so that was something at least. (The electric lights had gone out before the procession, and Gen had left the circle to find out why. Right after the Awen call was done, the light came back on. Sometimes the random chaos does make things better, I admit that. >8)

Then Jacqui went around the circle with the lantern and the rosemary wreath we were going to use as focus objects for the personal praise – well, so I thought. When we showed her where the Ancestor doll was before the rite, she mentioned something about acting as a conduit for the Ancestors, which I was okay with. I know that she’s an experienced Seer and if she says she can handle it, I believe her. What she didn’t do was get the doll. After a few people had gone, Gen leaned over to me and whispered, “I thought we were using the doll.” “Yeah, so did I. But I’m not stopping her in the middle of this.” I think Gen nodded, it was hard to tell in the dark. Not using the doll isn’t a hardship, I suppose, but for some of us it’s definitely taken on a special meaning at Samhain, and I know I felt its absence. What was worse is that Jacqui was asking people to name the Ancestors they wanted to be in the circle, and they were either whispering or talking too quietly for anyone to hear. I’ve always felt that the point of a Samhain ritual is to share your Ancestors with everyone else for the duration of the rite, and I didn’t feel that happening. Fortunately when it came around to our side of the circle, folks were speaking up a bit more, and it was easier to hear everyone. But yeah, this is one of the reasons I like passing the doll. People get that they need to address the entire group, not just the person before them. More stuff that I really wish we’d had a chance to go over during the planning.

And then when that was done, Jacqui threw the wreath into the fire, which was to be our main sacrifice. As I’m running through the ritual order in my head and trying to figure out what we’re doing for a main sacrifice instead of the wreath, Jacqui asks me and Rod if it’s time for the dance. “Um, what about the individual praise offerings?” “Oh, are we doing those?” Oh dear. The part of the ritual that brings non-Grove members to our rites, that makes people feel like the ritual means something to them even if they aren’t in ADF, the part of the ritual that several members had told me just that afternoon that they wanted to make sure they could take part in, and we nearly skipped it. Ay ay ay. I began the praise by remembering Natalie Jacobs, who earlier this year became (to my knowledge) the first former Grove member to pass away, and sent the lantern around the circle. (I really should have sung an Elvis Costello song for her, and am still kicking myself for not remembering our mutual love of his music when I could have.) As folks in the circle are talking about their Beloved Dead, from Paul telling a stupid (and nearly offensive, well not really) joke that his father loved, Valerie thanking the gods for her pregnancy, and others thanking whichever gods and spirits helped get Barack Obama elected, I really felt the group energy flowing. To me, the individual praise will always be the most magical part of our rites, moreso than any guided meditation or burnt offering could ever do. But maybe that’s just me.

So then we did the group praise, which was performing a Spiral Dance while I raspily tried to sing “Blood of the Ancients” while dancing, and somehow my larynx didn’t explode. >8) The spiral dance was a symbolic form of travel-and-return, in this case a journey to the Realm of the Dead and back, which was very nice, but would have been nicer if anyone besides the four ritual planners had known that that was the intent. I don’t mean to pick on Jacqui here, indeed this is probably the most common problem people have when they’re used to doing solitary or small group rituals and then try to lead a larger ritual, especially when some of the participants have literally never been to a pagan ritual before. A few words between ritual parts go a long way toward keeping the group mind intact and moving in the right metaphorical direction. But the dance was fun, and people enjoyed it.

So after this, Jacqui went to the fire and read the runes. I was surprised, since I thought we’d agreed that Rod was going to read the runes. Rod was apparently even more surprised, as he had actually completed his rune reading before he realized that Jacqui was doing one. He came over to me and whispered, “I thought I was reading the runes.” “Yeah, so did I.” “Oh well. At least my reading was good too.” I think the reading Jacqui for was Iera – Gebo – Berkano? I’m not sure, because she talked very quietly when she was saying it, and was facing away from the circle when doing so. Another common problem among ritual leaders. I’ve seen on our Akron (Ohio) protogrove’s mailing list that they’re going to offer a course on developing a ritual voice, and after yesterday I’m thinking that that would be a good idea for us as well. To paraphrase an old legal saying, “Ritual must not only be done, it must be heard to be done.”

After that, we made our announcements (including my usual plea for donations since running a raffle in the dark is difficult at best), Valerie held the cauldron as our most recent mother, and then we said our goodbyes to the Ancestors and other spirits, and headed back up to the Fire Circle. There was lots of food and lots of talk, and people stayed a good deal later than I would have expected given the temperature. (But hey, no rain!) We headed down to the circle to clean up early – while we usually wait until the following morning to clean up the site in the sunlight, the predictions of rain and possible snow convinced us that we needed to risk doing it in the dark. That went well enough, and my additional thanks to everyone who helped us out with that. We got Gen’s car packed to the roof and left the site about five minutes after the rain started. Phew!

So, what to make of the evening rite? Usually I’m a fairly hands-off guy when it comes to letting other people run ritual. I’d like to keep on being a fairly hands-off guy, really, but I see now what the risks are with that. And here I was mildly worried about the fairy wings, which in the end I thought worked out really well. But on the biggest ritual night of the year, with those new folks and those one-ritual-a-year folks in attendance, I realize now that we came across as something twenty-seven times worse than “silly”. We came off as unprepared. We looked like we didn’t know how to run a ritual. And that’s going to sting for quite some time. The fact that the ritual had any good energy in it at all just shows how powerful and meaningful this time of year is for us, and that our Ancestors and our Gods are willing to meet us half-way so to speak. But the next time someone other than me or Rod leads the ritual, we’re going to have to be a lot more careful in the planning, and make darn sure we block out the whole rite and go over it before hand. It just goes to show, even after fifteen years we still have things to learn as we continue the Grand Experiment.

So were you at either of the rituals? Agree with my assessment? Totally disagree? Come on, we could use some comments here. >8)

Blessings to all, and I hope your Samhain was happy and filled with Ancestors!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

EDIT: On a related note, remember how I mentioned that we couldn’t do a raffle for the evening rite, so I asked folks to donate money if at all possible? Well, between the afternoon rite raffle and the donations we got in the evening (and no, I don’t know how much came from which, it all went into the same box), we pulled in a grand total of… $33. This for a ritual where the site rental costs us $100. It’s very frustrating when people tell me how much better the outdoor rituals are than our indoor ones, and yet for the indoor ones we almost always manage to cover our costs. I’ll throw in my thanks here to the people who brought some of the ritual supplies to help keep our costs down, including the Kellers, Candy, Dot, Kim, Gen and myself. But if this keeps up, we’re seriously going to have to consider abandoning our nemeton and doing our rituals in public parks instead. At least we can afford those.

Cold Weekend? Try a Warm Fire!

The weather this weekend was super-lovely, well by November standards anyway, with lots of sun and temperatures in the 60s. I have no doubt that if the weather is any worse than that next weekend (and that’s pretty much a guarantee), at least some folks will ask why we didn’t have Samhain on “the right date”, i.e. the 1st. And as I mentioned in an earlier article on this blog, I’ll explain that having the ritual on the 1st would have meant holding our pre-ritual Fire Watch on the 31st, and that we’ll never ever schedule a Grove event on the 31st because many of our members celebrate the “secular” holiday of Halloween with their families or neighborhoods, and when we schedule an event, we want people to actually, y’know, show up for it. I’m also told that some of our members had Halloween parties to attend on the 1st as well, so there’s yet another reason to hold off until the 8th. And since the astronomical date for Samhain (the halfway point between fall equinox and winter solstice) is at 8:04 PM on November 6th, I’d argue that the 8th is a better date than the 1st anyway. But enough of the defensive justifications. >8) Everyone out there who celebrated Samhain this weekend, I hope you had a great time honoring your Ancestors or journeying between the worlds or collecting candy or whatever you did.

I mentioned Fire Watch, and since I haven’t done a blog article about it yet, I thought I’d expand upon it here. I know some folks use the term to refer to a vigil/sentry period to prevent fires from happening (as in the Connie Willis story “Fire Watch”), and given that we usually don’t want large fires burning near us, that makes some sense. >8) This particular Fire Watch is actually to keep a fire going, specifically our Grove’s blessed fire, which we kindle twice a year, at the Samhain and Beltaine Fire Watches. I then take the flame home with me and keep it burning in a seven day candle on my stove (I’m not a big fan of fires starting in my house either, and that’s the safest place for it). For the other six holidays, I bring the flame to Fire Watch, or to the indoor fire ceremony in the case of our indoor winter rites.

At Fire Watch itself, we kindle the flame and do a short blessing and some offerings around sunset. We then keep the fire going all night, with some people staying the night and the rest coming or going as we need to. For first timers, it’s a decent way to meet Grove members in a social setting, though folks who show up expecting a full blown ritual will be disappointed. Those folks should probably show up to the full blown ritual on Saturday instead. >8)

Hmm, I’m pretty much done here and I promised last time that I’d include something happy involving bunnies in this week’s entry. Umm… Well, I still have the rabbit that Gen’s sister rescued when the next-door neighbors threw it out of the house, and she’s fairly happy, that counts, right? Her name is Fuji, and she’s huge compared to the last rabbit I owned but has the same Himalayan coloring (white, grey nose ears paws and tail, and red eyes), and she loves eating greens. Ha, there, it fits! And sadly, she won’t be able to attend either of our Samhain rites on Saturday, but hopefully most of you can. See you then!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Related Reading:
Fire Watch FAQ List: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/faq/fwfaq.html